SMPS Boston

How to Encourage Non-marketers to Write

This article originally appeared on SMPS Boston’s website.

by Vanessa Schaefer

Providing expert level insights on projects or hot topics has become an increasingly important element in A/E/C firm marketing and business development. That means, most often, getting engineers, architects, and other non-marketers writing blog articles for the firm web site. Marketers agree that these articles are valuable, but also agree that it can be like pulling teeth to actually get people to write and submit web-ready content.

We’ve encountered this over and over while working with A/E/C and other professional service firms. Management and marketing want a robust blog capability. We build that component into the website, but marketing struggles for participation. Some blogs end up being abandoned.

I had the opportunity to speak with one of our clients that is having more success than most firms in this area. David Glod, an attorney and shareholder at the law firm Rich May in Boston, was kind enough to share the strategy that has helped the firm maintain a steady flow of content for its blog and social media efforts.

“I feel that for lawyers there’s always a difficult balance between the marketing component of our job and the practice of law,” Glod describes. “For years, we knew that it was important to have blog pieces, to have news items and updates and we’ve continually pushed to do that, but it’s a whole separate question of how to get people to set aside billable client work to produce this content.”

This is a common refrain we hear from clients. Blog posts are never the priority for those asked to write them and the marketing staff has little leverage to make busy experts generate them. As Glod relates, “It’s not directly benefiting them in a financial sense, and it’s not directly driving business in a way that’s easily measurable. So we figured that the easiest fix was to create a financial incentive to drive the result we wanted. We set up a program where any associate of the firm could earn a $250 bonus for each blog piece.” Twice a year bonuses are distributed based on who wrote what.

The results have been encouraging. The volume of high-quality content is up, and some of the authors have received inquiries from potential clients about legal issues they explored in their articles. From a management perspective, the bonus expense has been worth it.

Other Creative Solutions

Financial incentives can be powerful motivators, but we’ve seen other approaches to improve the quantity and quality of written content. Here are a few strategies to consider.

Create an Editorial Calendar

Instead of simply asking people to submit articles when they get inspired, put some structure around the effort. Form a small editorial committee and create a list of topics for articles for the coming year. Then get commitments from authors and publish the calendar. This structure creates accountability for the effort and justifies the reminders that should go out to authors as due dates approach.

Publicize Victories

Don’t let blog submissions disappear into a black hole. Let everyone in the firm know when a new article goes live, via an internal email, on your intranet, or other means. This simple notoriety may inspire others to submit posts.

Create a Friendly Competition

Everyone likes to win! Why not create some teams within your firm in a yearlong writing contest? Which team can post the most articles or meet the most due dates? Keep participants posted on the score throughout the year and reward the winners with an appropriate prize.

Be a Collaborator, not a Nuisance

The marketing team often gets stuck in the role of reminding, begging and cajoling everyone to produce articles. This role may be inevitable, but it can be far more productive to also get involved as a teammate. Schedule brief meetings with authors and ask questions about recent projects, hot topics, frequently asked questions, and issues clients have been talking about. Work together to select a topic for an article and add it to the calendar.

Keep it Short

Articles do not have to be long to be valuable. Instead of soliciting an exhaustive treatise on a topic, ask for a high-level primer. Remember the goal of blog articles is to demonstrate knowledge and capability, not to teach the reader how to solve problems on their own. Shorter articles mean less writing time, and a higher likelihood of getting them done on schedule.

Compromise When Necessary

Some people will not write articles, no matter how or how often you ask. For these resistors, offer a middle ground. Let them submit five or six bullet points on the designated topic and let someone in marketing or an outside writer take it from there. When a draft is complete, circle back to them for editing or feedback. It’s typically much easier and faster to react to something already written than to start from scratch. This compromise approach may not be your first choice, but can still produce valuable content, which is the ultimate aim.

Vanessa Schaefer is the president and creative director of Clockwork Design Group.